After 6 Months Of Climate Strikes, Leandra Mira Has No Plans To Slow Down

Dec 4, 2019

This past year has been a big one for climate activism, so much so, that the Collins English Dictionary declared "Climate Strike" the word of the year. Young people have largely led the movement, and 18-year-old Leandra Mira of Upper St. Clair has been the face of climate strikes in Pittsburgh.

On a chilly November afternoon on the steps of the City-County Building downtown, Mira explained how she stays warm.

"I'm very fortunate that the other strikers will bring blankets and towels some weeks," she said. "I just layer and bundle up and bring hand warmers."

Mira has perched on the granite steps every Friday from around noon to 4 p.m. since May 30. There are usually about a dozen other people with her, but the faces change from week to week. She hasn't missed a week, even while battling the flu.

"I still went because I feel like this is my baby, and I can't not go," Mira said. 

Climate Strikes are a global phenomenon. They began with Swedish teen Greta Thunberg sitting outside her country's parliament with a sign that read, "School Strike for the Climate." Students in Sweden and around the world joined in, and a movement called Fridays for Future was born.

Mira said she started striking in May in large part because of an abundance of cases of Ewing sarcoma, a rare bone cancer, in southwestern Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania Department of Health has said the 27 cases are not indicative of a cancer cluster, though it will study whether natural gas fracking is tied to its prevalence. Six of the cases from the past decade were centered in a single Washington County school district.

"A lot of the cases were kids in high school, and I'm also in high school," Mira said. "I don't want to live in a world where a zip code determines your lifespan."

At the end of September, an estimated 4,500 strikes took place in more than 150 countries; many were led by students. Mira was a key organizer of the Sept. 20 event in Pittsburgh, which drew an estimated crowd of 1,000. She said she was blown away by how many people came.

"It felt like you would speak for a couple of minutes and then look at the crowd again and it would have doubled in size," Mira said. "So it went from like 200 people, to 400 people, to then 600 people, and it just kept growing and growing."

At the Climate Strike, there were calls for Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto to take a stand against the still-under-construction Shell Ethane Cracker in Beaver County, which will make plastic from the region's natural gas. While Peduto has no jurisdiction over the plant, the mayor recently came out against additional petrochemical development in the region.

Mira said she doesn't want to credit Fridays for Future with Peduto's stance, but she hopes it gave him a push.

"I think that the movements happening in Pittsburgh right now are absolutely amazing, there's definitely an energy that I feel more people care about the environment and care about the climate crisis," Mira said. "I think that Mayor Peduto and his team feel that, too."

After the big September event, Mira said there were a couple of weeks where about 50 people joined her on the steps: that number has gone back down to about a dozen. Mira said she's worried about what would happen to the movement if she didn't come every week.

"It sort of feels like its success is completely on my shoulders. I haven't missed a Friday in six months," she said. "It's this fear that the one time I drop the ball or the one time I don't go, it'll fall apart."

While Mira said she feels uncomfortable being labeled a climate action leader, she plans to keep coming every Friday to strike for climate action for as long as she's in Pittsburgh. Once she finishes her high school courses, she plans to take a gap year for activism. Eventually, she wants to become a marine biologist.

The next global Climate Strike is Friday at 1 p.m., on the steps of the City-County Building.